California takes up health care, election financing, drivers licenses

As its 2006 session gets into full swing, the California Legislature is considering measures dealing with health care, publicly funded elections, and driver’s licenses for all.

Senate Bill 840, the California Health Insurance Reliability Act introduced last year by state Sen. Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica), is now before the Assembly following last year’s Senate passage.

Support for the measure is growing rapidly. Among backers are Health Care for All, the California Nurses Association, California Teachers Association, California Federation of Teachers, SEIU, California Physicians Alliance, Latino Issues Forum and NOW.

A single-payer plan, SB 840 would cover all Californians based on residency. Included would be hospital, medical, surgical and mental health services, dental and vision, prescriptions, emergency care and much more. No deductibles would be charged, and patients would choose their own doctors.

Coverage would be funded through monies already being spent on health care by various levels of government, and affordable, means-tested insurance premiums. Estimates say the state’s total health care spending could be cut by $20 billion in SB 840’s first year of operation. Kuehl is currently developing a companion measure detailing funding.

Resoundingly approved by the Assembly last month, AB 583, the California Clean Money and Fair Elections Act introduced by Assemblymember Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley/Oakland) will soon be considered by the Senate. The bill would establish a “clean money” system allowing any candidate who raises many small donations from people living in the district, and who agrees not to take contributions from any special interests, to receive full public campaign financing. Similar systems now operate in Maine and Arizona.

“We can no longer ignore the corrosive influence of money on the legislative process,” Hancock said in a recent statement. “Clean Money — public financing of campaigns — is an idea whose time has come.”

Sen. Gil Cedillo (D-Los Angeles) last month reintroduced Senate Bill 1160, to allow licensing of all California drivers, whether documented or not. Last year Gov. Arnold Schwarzeneggers vetoed a similar bill. Cedillo emphasizes that the measure, which takes into account the Federal Real ID Act of 2005, will make highways safer by paving the way for all California drivers to be tested, trained and licensed.